Billionaires shouldn’t exist.
I’ve been hearing this phrase on a near loop not coincidentally since 2016 when a certain someone became the President of the United States. The point being that anyone who has amassed such a fortune is not only guilty of abusing subordinates (as no one could possibly arrive at that amount of money without exploiting others) but both evil and totally undeserving of such a sum. And while I’ve written previously about billionaires and their various underhanded tactics, there was always a specificity to those accusations. There was an action before there was an issue. The billionaireness was not the cause of their misdeeds, but it often magnified them as they were unnecessary for someone in such a position and more impactful by virtue of the wealth and power behind them.
The issue was never the fact that they were a billionaire. Yet we seem to have had a societal shift toward an automatic suspicion bordering on total disdain for anyone whose bank account has reached a particular figure without explanation.
On the surface it seems obvious as a billionaire is someone who has so much more than they could ever need. During a time of staggering and growing inequality, this comes as no surprise. But the peg seems to have been set squarely on nine zeroes when anyone anywhere can live quite comfortably with six. What specifically takes place when one enters the billionaire club that now makes the person an exploitative pariah that didn’t trigger at four hundred and twenty two million? As this is a sum that can alter an entire society for the better. Or one hundred and eleven million. How about six million only? That person remains incredibly comfortable with far more than they need.
In the interests of a useful discussion, we will have to leave out the extremists that believe none should have any more than another or those who define “need” as an absolute bare bones existence. These and other equally ridiculous ideas can be found in the various cesspits of reddit, with both the conversational and argumentative quality to match. Take part at your own peril.
If an author writes a set of children’s books and becomes a millionaire, they are a success story. A few more million and they become a phenomenon. A few movies and millions more, a cultural icon. Should this continue, they will somehow find themselves in league with Jeff Bezos. The distinction between a once in a generation children’s fiction writer and the owner of one of our most exploitative companies somehow erased. All for the crime of having tripped an invisible and altogether arbitrary breaker. What changed between being a multi-millionaire success story and a billionaire ghoul? It remains unclear. What’s important is that billionaires shouldn’t exist.
Our predilection for arbitrary points of no return is not limited to wealth. Our online spaces (seemingly more crowded and drowned in a sea of armchair activism than ever before) have also moved from places to post pictures of your dog to our modern day forums/arenas. The champions therein no longer able to simply let you know about their favourite meme. They have a platform and are expected to use it for the common good. How many Twitter followers until you have “social responsibility?” When do you transition from celebrity joker to influencer? (Or from “influencer” to actual influencer, for that matter.) More importantly, who made this decision and why did they foist it upon those whose qualifications for social commentary are slightly below that of your average anonymous internet article writer?
There seems to be little rhyme or reason behind our demands of those in the public eye with even less thought given to specifically why they should do anything at all. The link between can and should is created at arbitrary yet psychologically satisfying trigger points which may explain its sudden appearance. YouTube sends you an award at one hundred thousand subscribers, again at one million, ten million, and one hundred million. The top ten songs get played on an endless loop. If you made ninety seven thousand dollars last year you were so close. Even if having the eleventh most played song is the monumental achievement that it sounds like or making ninety seven thousand dollars in a year puts you in a very comfortable position.
Round numbers that end in several zeros give the feeling of a new plateau reached when, realistically, they are only slightly larger than other incredibly large numbers that don’t have the same impact on our thought processes. So the billionaire is bad and some other guy has many followers. But the former who takes advantage of overseas slave operations to fashion her wares skates by unnoticed while only making three hundred million dollars a year and the latter who plays dressup for a living isn’t expected to speak for change since he only has about forty thousand followers which makes him relatively unknown in this little corner of the universe. They have yet to hit those magic numbers, we’ll pay attention when they do.
Ultra wealthy non-billionaires get flak, to be sure, but they dodge the adages. And while one can argue that billionaires are far more rare and therefore more well known by the public, this serves as no explanation as to why specifically their breed should not exist when those just below their threshold operate with comparative impunity. Furthermore, being more well known or being among the richest of the rich (or the most followed of the followed) does not somehow automatically place one into anything but a higher echelon within their respective field.
Hold everyone accountable for what they do, not whether or not they made a new arbitrary milestone. Morality cannot be injected at set intervals if it is to have any legitimacy.